February 9th, 2009
Despite the ever-worsening economic collapse, the almost complete unavailability of credit, and the oughtta be illegal raising of credit card interest rates to usurious levels, most of us are still getting the usual 3 or 4 Super-Duper Gold-Plus 0% APR credit card offers per week. I’m still getting them, and I don’t even have any credit!
They’ve been building up in the trash portion of my filing system for over a month now, so I thought I’d go through them all at once for one last laugh before using them as fire-starter in the wood stove. Almost immediately I was struck by the clever marketing gimmick of making this credit card or that one sound super-exclusive on the basis of the color of the plastic.
We’re familiar with green cards, gold cards and platinum cards. Now there’s black cards and school color cards and sports team color cards too. There are “pick your own” color cards, so you can match your car or your outfit. There are silver cards and copper cards and a few that call themselves something other than battleship gray, which is what they actually are. Blue cards and red cards and multicolors too. There are red, white and blue flag cards with eagle holograms, there’s baby pink or blue.
Most new business for credit card companies doesn’t come from luring new customers into debt, but from getting people already up to their ears in debt to cancel their old cards and transfer the balances to a new card. Savvy consumers can save a bundle on interest by doing this every year or so if they carry a balance, but most credit card holders aren’t that savvy and don’t bother reading the fine print. They just make their payments and wonder why their balance keeps going up even though they haven’t bought anything since Christmas of 2005.
So marketers, knowing the allure of certain colors for certain people, can entice people to switch by offering them a new card in a prettier color. Strange but true.
It’s the basic psychology of marketing at work, and the marketing of credit cards is one of the hottest markets going. Or was, and probably will be again as soon as banks and companies start lending again. Color is filed under the “Perception” angle. It’s one of those things that can get customers to filter themselves so the marketer doesn’t have to do the hard demographic classification work (colors mean different things in different cultures).
The connotations of the color’s title also works to expand the potential customer base. A ‘Gold’ card appeals to just about everyone’s knowledge of value and precious commodities, even though the color itself is an uninspiring yellow-brown. The ‘Platinum’ card is called platinum instead of silver because plantinum is a more valuable metal than silver – more valuable than gold, even though the color is the same, and it’s an uninspiring light gray. A ‘Green’ card will appeal to a broad demographic and younger customers, and if tied to a kick-back to some greenish cause (Save the Whales, solar power, whatever) will be readily marketable.
Credit cards in other colors appeal to customers primarily for the color and not what it subliminally suggests to them or others. A ‘Carolina Blue’ card – and that color is really more of an aqua – appeals to a broad cross-section of males who live in North or South Carolina because it’s the team color of the Panthers. A bright red card will appeal to the same demographic in states whose teams (baseball, football, basketball) have red for a color. Or cardinal as a state bird. Or red and white as school colors. This take a little targeted marketing, or the issuer can just offer a full color range to each customer and let them choose their own.
So now you know. There is a crafty marketing reason why there are so many colors of credit card out there. Maybe you’ll be strong and resist the ploys tugging on your psychological profile in order to take your money, or perhaps you’ll thing the idea is great and go get a Steelers card today. Either way, it never hurts to understand something about how marketers manipulate people in order to make money. That knowledge gives you more power and greater choice, and can help you avoid the debt traps set for you seemingly around every corner.
The Seen and Unseen Bears and Gorillas in Marketing
Credit Card Matcher
Credit-card Merchant Account Services: Color Psychology
Consumer Behavior: The Psychology of Marketing
Marketing credit cards: offers you can’t refuse